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Three Things to Know: Nine wins in a row and Boston’s time might be now

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum have Celtics thinking their time is now. The conventional wisdom coming into the season was Boston was a year away. They weren’t going to be good enough defensively (after moving Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder), their young stars such as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown needed another year, and it was going to take time for Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to develop the kind of chemistry needed to go at LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

After a stretching their win streak to nine games Monday night with a 110-107 win in Atlanta — a day after the Cavaliers melted down and lost there — the Celtics are sounding a lot like Zack de la Rocha: “What better place than here, what better time than now? All hell can’t stop us now.”

Irving sealed the win scoring 8 of Boston’s final 11 points to top off his 35 on the night. All game he was carving up the Hawks in a two-man game with Horford that has become fierce already, or he would just put on a scoring clinic himself.

The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA so far, allowing just 95.9 points per 100 possessions. They have done it by holding teams to 47.7 percent eFG%, limiting the number of threes allowed, and doing a good job contesting midrange jumpers.

When Gordon Hayward went down it thrust rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year man Jaylen Brown into the spotlight and many thought before they were fully ready. Nope, they are ready and their play is another key to the Celtics nine-game win streak. Against the Hawks, Tatum had 21 points, including a key late-game three.

The Cavaliers at some point will start to play like they care, and they will figure out some of their defensive issues, but they also have some serious systemic defensive problems (a lot of minus defenders are going to have to get heavy minutes for them). It’s early, but Boston’s time might well be now, not a year from now. This team is well ahead of schedule.

2) The speculation game…. is LeBron James frustrated? And if so, at what exactly? Not long after the Celtics won their ninth in a row, LeBron James posted this meme to Instagram.

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Mood…

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It’s a meme from Arthur meant to express frustration.

So what is LeBron frustrated about? That the Celtics are hot and look like a real threat to the Cavaliers? That Boston and its new players have come together quickly as a team while the Cavaliers look dazed and confused on the court? That Kyrie Irving has looked brilliant this young season and seems to have made a good decision for himself?

In the comments, Damian Lillard said: “This post hella funny.”

Also in the comments, Isaiah Thomas wrote, “Need me to handle somebody cuz?” No, I think he just needs you back on the court sooner rather than later.

3) Nike making substantive changes to jerseys after series of high-profile tears to them. LeBron James had his jersey split open on opening night on national television, right down the back. Later that night, Tyler Ennis of the Lakers had his jersey tear and basically come apart after a not-that-hard pull on it from an opponent. Last week it was Ben Simmons whose jersey tore apart after a not very aggressive tug from an opponent. Then Kevin Love just ripped his own jersey with no problem. The new Nike jerseys have looked like old football tearaway jerseys.

Monday night Nike — which took over the NBA apparel contract starting this season on an eight-year, $1 billion deal —  released a statement to ESPN’s Darren Rovell saying changes were coming to the jerseys.

“…we have worked hard to create the most advanced uniforms in the history of the NBA. They are lighter and deliver great mobility and sweat wicking characteristics, and the feedback from players has been overwhelmingly positive. However, during gameplay we have seen a small number of athletes experience significant jersey tears. We are very concerned to see any game day tear and are working to implement a solution that involves standardizing the embellishment process and enhancing the seam strength of game day jerseys.”

Exactly what form all this will take, and how long it will take to get the players is not known, but this is a good step. As the physicality of the NBA season picks up as it moves along (as it always does), this problem would have gotten worse.

Luka Doncic had more points, rebounds and assists than Warriors in first quarter

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Luka Doncic keeps doing amazing things.

But he really outdid himself in opening quarter of the Mavericks win over the Warriors last night. The box score after the first quarter:

  • Points: Doncic 22, Warriors 16
  • Rebounds: Doncic 5, Warriors 4
  • Assists: Doncic 5, Warriors 4

Outscoring Golden State? OK. Getting more assists? OK. Doing both? That’s just incredible. Doncic was in total control offensively.

The 6-foot-7 wing out-rebounding the Warriors is especially astounding. Though I suppose if 6-foot Allen Iverson out-rebounded an entire team for a quarter, it’s not that crazy Doncic did, too.

To be fair, this achievement deserves a little context. Warriors who played in the first quarter:

Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s sloppy first game shows promise

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s first game together is both sloppy and shows moments of real promise. This was what the Clippers had been waiting for since July, what they had paid a steep price to make a reality and change the course of a franchise.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard shared an NBA court for the first time and it was…

Sloppy.

A bit awkward, like a blind first date. Credit Boston’s active defense for some of that — it’s not a fluke Boston has the seventh-best defense in the league this season and forced 23 turnovers on the night — but through the muck there were moments of real promise. Like the first play of the game, when the Celtics trapped Leonard off an Ivica Zubac pick, Leonard fed Zubac, who quickly found Leonard for a three.

Moments later, when the Celtics trapped Leonard, and he found George for three.

For much of the game, things were not as smooth with those two on the court together — as should be expected. George missed the first 11 games of the season following double shoulder surgery this offseason. Once he returned, Leonard was out three games with a bruised knee. The pair had literally one practice together, and in the full-contact scrimmage to end that day they were on opposing sides.

This marriage going to take time. The Clippers didn’t even explore a Leonard/George pick-and-roll in this game, but you know that’s coming. As Doc Rivers put it postgame:

“We were kind of trying not to get in each other’s way at times, you could feel that…

“We need a lot of work, you can see that… part of that was we were trying to get the ball to guys instead of trying to score.”

With the game on the line in overtime against one of the NBA’s better and hotter teams in Boston, two things that make the Clippers so dangerous were evident.

One is the defense — George and Leonard each made big defensive plays late, including Leonard blocking Marcus Smart’s attempt at a game-winner.

All game long the Clippers length and defense gave Boston — which came into the game with the league’s fourth-best offense — trouble.

Second is Leonard and George have a good team around them — Patrick Beverley was the best Clipper on the floor Wednesday night and the team gave him the game ball afterward. He was intense on defense (as always), had 14 points and 16 boards, and with the Celtics making the choice to trap and double on offense guys were open, and it was Beverley who made Boston pay with the overtime dagger to seal a 107-104 win.

The Clippers, for all their star power, look a lot like Beverley. This is a scrappy, hard-working team with guys who play their roles and bring intensity. Even their stars are that way — George and Leonard are not anointed No. 1 picks where everyone saw their stardom coming, they are lunch pail guys who had talent but came out of smaller colleges and had to work hard to get where they are. Nothing was handed to them, they had to grind it out.

This is why pairing Leonard and George was always going to take a little time to make work. They were always going to have to figure it out.

But when they do…. you can already see why the rest of the league should be worried.

2) Another night, another ridiculous Luka Doncic triple-double. This feels like a nightly thing, and I’m fast running out of ways to praise Luka Doncic, his play, and to remind everyone that he’s just 20 years old and in his second NBA season.

Age doesn’t matter, he’s been so good he’s injected himself into the way-too-early MVP conversation. His latest feat Friday night was a 35-point, 11 assists, 10 rebound triple-double against the hapless Warriors — this time he did it in just 25 minutes on the court.

Doncic scored more points in the first quarter than the Warriors (22-16) and also had more rebounds and assists than the Warriors team. The last guy to do that to any NBA team was Allen Iverson.

Doncic is now averaging a triple-double over his last 10 games: 31.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10.5 assists in that stretch. Here’s the list of other NBA players to average a 30+ point triple-double for 10 games or more: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson. That’s it.

Doncic is special, has willed the Mavericks to a 9-5 record, and has them looking like a playoff team in the West. Lifting up your team to the next level is what MVPs do, and so far in Dallas it’s what Doncic has done.

3) Do you believe in miracles… YES! Ben Simmons hits his first NBA three. That headline may overstate the excitement around Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons on Wednesday. But not by that much. Sixers fans — and coach Brett Brown — has had to wait three seasons, 193 games, and 18 attempts from three clank off the rim, if they hit anything at all. (Those numbers include his playoff stats.) It finally happened:

Ben Simmons has made his first NBA three.

We’ve all seen the videos of Simmons knocking down threes in an empty gym, but that’s the NBA equivalent of dunking on an 8-foot rim at the local elementary school. Not the same thing.

This was Simmons’ first attempt at a three all season — that’s the real concern. To create floor spacing Philly wants and needs, Simmons needs to be much more willing to uncork this shot — he’s got to take a bunch and make enough of them before teams respect him from deep.

This is at least a start. And it feels like a miracle.

There’s a mural in L.A. of Alex Caruso dunking over Harden, Leonard, Doncic

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It’s hard to overstate how popular Alex Caruso is in Los Angeles. Seriously. This isn’t just cult status popular, when he enters the game off the bench Staples Center explodes in cheers like LeBron James just fed Anthony Davis for an alley-oop.

Now Caruso has his own mural in Los Angeles.

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🐐 don’t @ me #lakeshow

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This is legit, it’s on the side of SportieLA, a clothing/apparel store on Melrose Ave. in the trendy heart of Los Angeles. Artist Gustavo Zermeño Jr. has done murals in the past for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other Los Angeles sports icons such as Vin Scully.

This one plays off a huge Caruso dunk from earlier this month when Dallas’ Maxi Kleber was the victim.

It’s good to be Alex Caruso in Los Angeles right now.

Kawhi Leonard just destroyed Boston’s Daniel Theis on dunk

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Daniel Theis‘ play as a rim protector is one of the reasons Boston has a top-10 defense this season. He has anchored the Celtics’ defense in the paint.

Kawhi Leonard is a two-time Finals MVP, and if he wants to go to the rim nobody is stopping him. Theis found out the hard way.

After the game, Leonard was asked about the dunk and he responded in about the most Kawhi way possible.

This was the first game Leonard and Paul George played together and they combined for 42 points, and they both made key play down the stretch of a 107-104 overtime win.